PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Other passengers on United Flight 1535 from Houston to Portland had differing views on the removal of a Tigard family during an emergency landing ostensibly because their teenage daughter with autism was disruptive.
Donna Beegle told KOIN 6 News on Friday about the incident that happened May 5. The Beegles were flying back from DisneyWorld, and took a flight from Orlando to Houston with a connecting flight from Houston to Portland.
Beegle noticed a telltale sign from her daughter. She needed a hot meal, and Beegle offered to buy one from First Class.
She told KOIN 6 News she explained that if her daughter didn’t get a hot meal, she would “get to the meltdown point” and maybe scratch someone. Juliette soon got a first-class meal.
The plane made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City, and police forced the Beegles — Donna, her husband, Juliette and their son — off. United made a connection for them and they flew to Portland on a Delta flight.
Before leaving the plane, Beegle said she made police take statements from the other passengers. She said one officer told her, “You have a lot of people on your side saying this was not an issue.”
One passenger, Chris Hall, provided KOIN 6 News with video he shot inside the plane as the Beegles were removed. The video seems to support their claim Juliette was not disruptive. Hall can be heard saying, “This is ridiculous,” and agreeing with someone who said a lawsuit was likely to follow.
“The child would make noise every now and then, no louder than, say, a baby crying,” Hall told KOIN 6 News. “I don’t think they should have landed a plane for her being fussy.”
But another passenger had a different view, and told KOIN 6 News the flight crew was right to land in Salt Lake City and make the Beegle family get off.
Marilyn Hedlund said Juliette had been “howling” before the incident and the flight attendants had been working quietly with the family for nearly an hour before the pilot made the decision to make an emergency landing.
“There was a lot of howling, and we thought well, what’s going on? And it never stopped,” Hedlund said.
“She wasn’t put off the plane because she had autism, she was put off the plane because she was maybe proposing some kind of a threat, to (about) 170 other people at 36,000 feet, which doesn’t make anyone feel safe,” Hedlund said. “What if she got crazy and got up and opened an exit door at 36,000 feet?”
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, United Airlines spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said, “After working to accommodate Dr. Beegle and her daughter during the flight, the crew made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive. We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland.”
The Beegles boarded a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Portland.
“We have to define disruption,” Beegle told KOIN 6 News on Saturday. “Is her getting agitated and making sounds a threat?”
She added her daughter could not have opened an exit door. “She would have had to go through her Dad. He had the middle seat. She’s a 15-year-old girl.”
“I think the airline did everything they possibly could,” Hedlund said.
Hall disagrees. “The whole thing is ridiculous. They shouldn’t have done that.”
Donna Beegle has contacted an attorney and will likely file a lawsuit. She said it’s not about the money, it’s about providing training for people and dispelling fear about autism.